Refugee Status for Syrians Is Not Automatic
Refugee Status for Syrians Is Not Automatic
Polls show that Americans’ willingness to accommodate the Syrian refugees in the US is on the decline, The Guardian reported. In the US, 48% believe the borders should be closed entirely. Another poll puts the US opposition to Syrian refugees as high as 54%. This stance comes after the terror attacks in Paris last week where 129 people were murdered, and where one of the terrorists was reported to have entered Europe hidden in the throng of refuges arriving from war torn Syria. Much of this aversion to admitting Syrian refugees comes from the decreased confidence Americans have in the ability of the government to screen out possible threats that may be disguised in those seeking refugee status.
The process to obtain refugee status takes between 18 and 24 months, and sometimes up to three years – particularly for Syrians whose investigations are taking longer than average. A person seeking refugee status must leave his home country and apply through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR will make an initial determination on whether refugee status is warranted or not based on the 1951 Refugee Convention:
a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
If a person meets the definition then he or she is referred for resettlement to a third country. That country will then do its own investigation to determine if the person should be granted refugee status. For Syrian applicants to the US, it has been reported that the approval rate is approximately 50%.
During the 18 month to 3 year period in which an investigation is pending for a Syrian applying for refugee status, several agencies will work on the application:
The process is directed by the Homeland Security Department and involves the State Department and U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Refugees submit to in-person interviews overseas, where they provide biographical details about themselves, including their families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, phone numbers, email accounts and more. They also provide biometric information about themselves, including fingerprints. Syrians are subject to additional, classified controls, according to administration officials, who briefed reporters this week on condition that they not be identified by name to publicly discuss confidential details about the process. . . .
Refugees who spent years waiting for approval to come to the United States said authorities asked detailed questions repeatedly in multiple interviews, including pressing them about their backgrounds and reasons for fleeing Syria. Nedal Al-Hayk, who was resettled in suburban Detroit with his family after a three-year wait, said officials interviewed him and his wife in separate rooms, asking repeatedly and in different ways where they were born, where their parents were born, what they did before and during the war or whether they were armed, part of a rebel group, supportive of the government or even politically outspoken.
The House of Representatives this week passed a bill that focuses on a heightened vetting process to include more FBI background checks, and will require that
the heads of the FBI, Homeland Security Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence certify that each refugee being admitted would not pose a threat. It could have the practical effect of keeping refugees out of the United States entirely.
Since the civil war in Syria began in 2011, it is estimated that 9,000,000 Syrians have been displaced, and there are over 4,000,000 refugees that have registered with UNHCR. Most have gone to Turkey (over 2,000,000) or Lebanon (about 1,200,000) or Jordan (about 1,400,000). The US has taken in less than 2,400, but the President has increased the goal number to 10,000 for fiscal year 2016. By comparison, the US normally has a yearly quota of accepting 70,000 refugees per year from around the world. It is within the President’s discretion to set this number and Obama has raised it to 85,000 this year including the addition of 10,000 Syrians.
Refugees are relocated to an area where they may have family ties, or where a large immigrant community already exists. They may start working immediately and are given
a medical exam, a cultural orientation, help with  travel plans, and a loan for  travel to the United States. After [arrival], [they are] eligible for medical and cash assistance.
In the US, refugees must apply for permanent residency (green card) after one year.
The process in place for investigating refugees is involved, and could even be improved with the implementation of the new bill coming from the House which will require more extensive background checks.
However, nothing is fool proof, and so despite fleeing from terror, the US should determine whether an applicant has an understanding and appreciation of American exceptionalism. Syrian refugees, who may not pose an initial threat, as well as American sympathizers, can become radicalized all while on American soil. Their past may not reliably predict their future if they do not also embrace the American values of free speech, freedom of religion, and liberty in general. In short, though it is hard to quantify, below is really the test that immigrants need to pass:
“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
Theodore Roosevelt 1907
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We have a national policy of accepting tens of thousands refugees per year. However, Americans also have unsolved problems to which legal immigration contributes, not to mention illegal immigration. We have homeless veterans and languishing employment opportunities to name just two. We need to prioritize our resources to help Americans first. If sincere attention were paid to problems like these, the American people might be more open to extending generosity.
Further, the Syrian refugee issue is a problem that has been in the making since 2011, prompted by the rise of ISIS. While the President refused to effectively engage in combatting that horror, these people had already been suffering for several years. Americans may feel that this is problem of Obama’s making, but now we have to sacrifice for it. I think we would have rather sacrificed in an effort to destroy ISIS.
Finally, the hypocrisy of the left is disturbing. On the one hand the left denigrates opponents of the Syrian refugees and calls them racist and xenophobic, when opponents hold a sincere desire to protect the country. On the other hand, the left exaggerates or makes up out of whole cloth racial controversy inside the US, continually asserting what a horrible country is America. There is no eradicating racism anywhere in the world, but if there is a place where minorities can feel the most protection against discrimination, America will win unequivocally.
Many Americans believe that Obama does not and never had American interests as his number one priority. That is why it is so hard now to be open to an influx of Syrian refugees. The President finds himself in a very interesting position – he is advocating on behalf of the Syrian people, and those who he has to sell this to are citizens of his own country. I wish that he would take up for us like that.